Movie Review: God Bless the Broken Road

Inspired by the Rascal Flatts song, “God Bless the Broken Road,” this film follows Amber (Lindsay Pulsipher), a young war widow struggling with her husband’s untimely death in Afghanistan. A second storyline focuses on Cody (Andrew W. Walker), a headstrong NASCAR driver who has been forced into coaching and community service with a local racer (Gary Grubbs).

Two years after her husband’s death, Amber reaches the end of her rope. Her job at the diner barely covers the essentials, her house is on the verge of foreclosure, and her overbearing mother-in-law (Kim Delaney) doesn’t hesitate to criticize Amber’s parenting of her daughter, Bree (Makenzie Moss). Amber becomes increasingly angry at God and refuses to attend church. Frustrated and desperate, she pawns her engagement ring and takes out a 38-percent loan to make house payments.

Cody winds up helping Bree and the other children in the church community build their own go-karts. Eventually, Amber and Cody meet and start dating.

Unfortunately, their respective situations worsen.

Unwilling to curb his recklessness on the track, Cody crashes but manages to emerge unscathed. Shocked by his near-fatal accident, Amber takes distance and forbids Bree to participate in the upcoming go-kart races.

As Amber loses her home to foreclosure, she faces more criticism from her mother-in-law and growing rebellion from Bree, who is determined to race her go-kart and live with her grandmother.

Bree’s disappearance brings all the characters together in an emotional finale, culminating with the singing of the title song. Remember to bring tissues!


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Movie Review: Little Italy

Set in Toronto’s Little Italy neighborhood, this light-hearted comedy celebrates family, young (and not-so-young) romance, and food–more precisely pizza.

The tagline–Romeo and Juliet with pizza–is an apt descriptor.

The storyline centers on Nikki Angioli (Emma Roberts), an aspiring chef who reluctantly returns to Toronto after a five-year absence, and Leo Campo (Hayden Christensen), her boyhood pal. The chemistry sizzles as they navigate a slow, sensual courtship.

Unfortunately, their fathers, onetime friends and partners, had a falling out after a pizza contest. Now, they’re operating rival pizzerias next door to each other.

Nikki and Leo aren’t the only star-crossed lovers in this film. Nikki’s grandmother (Andrea Martin) and Leo’s grandfather (Danny Aiello) carry on a secret romance, meeting in the confessional and at Starbucks. Their scenes are delightful–I only wish more of the movie had been devoted to these seasoned actors.

While most of the film features Italian-Canadian (American) stereotypes, a few extra touches have been added: an Asian bar owner named Luigi (Andrew Phung) and two Indo-Canadian characters, Jogi and Jessie (Vas Saranga and Amrit Kauer) who work for the rival pizzerias.

Definitely light fare but an excellent choice for end-of-the-summer viewing.


Movie Review: Crazy Rich Asians

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed the novel by Kevin Kwan, I wondered if the film adaptation could possibly capture its glamor, extravagance, and humor.

I needn’t have worried.

Director Jon M. Chu has succeeded in creating an unforgettable romantic comedy with an all-Asian cast and an Asian-American lead, set against the stunning backdrop of Singapore.

Native New Yorker Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) accompanies her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. While Rachel is excited and nervous about meeting Nick’s family, she has no idea about the extent of his family affluence and influence. Nick is the son of an obscenely wealthy family and one of Singapore’s most eligible bachelors.

Rachel becomes an instant target for Nick’s disapproving mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) and a host of jealous relatives and socialites. A series of adventures and misadventures follow as Rachel attends a never-ending stream of social events featuring over-the-top meals and décor.

At first covert, Eleanor’s behavior quickly becomes more overt; she informs Rachel that she has no pedigree and is simply not good enough for her son. A former girlfriend of Nick’s and her posse indulge in some mean-girl tactics, intended to intimidate Rachel. When Rachel’s confidence falters, she is propped up by Goh Peik Lin (Awkwafina), a hilarious college roommate, and her nouveau riche family.

From start to finish, I found myself immersed in the antics of these delightful and not-so-delightful characters. I particularly enjoyed the ending–a slight departure from the novel–but one that will linger in the memories of rom-com enthusiasts. And possibly pave the way for a sequel.

From my book review of Crazy Rich Asians: “A modern-day Romeo and Juliet story with dashes of the Kardashians, hints of Dallas and Falconcrest, and heavy doses of the snobbery and social rules found in Downton Abbey.” You can read more here.


Movie Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

I found myself relaxing into this delightful film, set against the backdrop of a beautiful Greek island (actually shot up the coast in Croatia) and the upbeat tempo of timeless ABBA songs. In addition to hearing the old favorites—“Dancing Queen” and “Waterloo”—we are introduced to lesser-known songs such as “When I kissed the Teacher,” “Andante Andante,” and “One of Us.” I’m looking forward to Cher’s upcoming CD release of these cover songs.

Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is planning a grand opening for Hotel Bella Donna, named in honor of her mother, Donna (Meryl Streep), who died the previous year. Everything is in place as Sophie awaits the arrival of Donna’s best friends, Rose (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christina Baranski) and her three Dads, Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Harry (Colin Firth), and Bill (Stellan Skarsgard).

To make up for Donna’s death, the film introduces a parallel story about Donna’s youth. Lily James plays the young Donna, a free-spirited and sweet-voiced woman hoping to make memories as she searches for her life’s purpose. The flashbacks seamlessly move the timeline between the late 1970s and the present day. While the original film glossed over the details, this sequel provides insight into Donna’s relationships with her three suitors. The new cast playing the younger versions of the main characters add to the film’s energy and humor.

The casting of Cher as Donna’s mother was an inspired decision. Her rendition of “Fernando” (as sung to Andy Garcia) is one of the highlights. I also enjoyed the short—too short—scene where Meryl Streep appears and sings “My Love, My Life” with Amy Seyfried. Bring your tissues!

A light and breezy film perfect for the summer and a welcome reprieve from the explosive alternatives.


Movie Review: Book Club

Four iconic actresses—Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen—come together in this breezy movie about relationships, aging, and sexuality.

Each actress plays a role closely tied to her own persona: High-strung Diane (Diane Keaton) is dealing with recent widowhood, Vivian (Jane Fonda) enjoys her short flings and independence, Sharon (Candice Bergen) plays a cynical, long-divorced federal judge, and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) is experiencing a slump in her marriage.

After starting to read Fifty Shades of Grey, their book club selection, the women’s lives are turned upside down.

While traveling to visit her two condescending daughters, Diane stumbles over a dashing stranger (Andy Garcia), almost knocks him out as she tries to retrieve anti-anxiety pills, and when a loud noise frightens her, she grabs his crotch to steady herself. Sparks fly and soon the twosome is inseparable.

Carol’s attempts to revive her sex life with her husband (Craig T. Nelson) lead to several cringe-worthy conversations and an embarrassing encounter with a female constable.

Bold and confident Vivian succumbs to the advances of a younger lover (Don Johnson) from her past.

Sharon, played with aplomb by Candice Bergen, stole the show with her witticisms, no-nonsense judgments, struggles with Spanx, and online dating adventures. I could easily have watched an entire 104 minutes of this particular subplot.

Definitely light fare but worth seeing and noting the underlying message: If you’re feeling stuck or stagnant, take responsibility and shake up your life.


Movie Review: I Can Only Imagine

I’ve always been fascinated with the back story behind creative endeavors—that initial spark, struggles on the journey, and the ultimate success. All three exist, along with stellar acting performances, in this riveting film about the inspiring story behind the most popular Christian music song in history.

The storyline follows the trajectory of MercyMe lead singer Bart Millard from his pre-teen years (played by Brody Rose) through high school and beyond (brilliantly played by Broadway performer J. Michael Finlay).

Growing up in Greenville, Texas, Bart had a tight bond with his gentle mother but steered clear of his angry, abusive father (expertly played by Dennis Quaid). Upon returning home from a week at church camp, Bart discovers that his mother has abandoned him, leaving him alone to suffer the emotional and physical abuse.

Bart attempts to connect with his father—a former high school athlete—through football. Unfortunately, a leg injury derails Bart’s plans. His girlfriend Shannon (Madelaine Carroll) persuades him to join the Glee Club. Everyone—including Bart—is surprised by his singing talent.

Determined to be a success in the music industry, Bart leaves town upon graduation, abandoning his father and girlfriend. He joins a band that needs a singer and tours with them throughout Oklahoma and nearby states. They attract the attention of music producer Brickell (well-played by Trace Adkins). While Brickell isn’t impressed by their cover songs, he does show interest in Bart’s more heartfelt music.

The band is popular and well-received by audiences, but music executives are not ready to take them to the next level. The criticism stings: “You’re not good enough…Go home.”

Distraught, Bart wants to quit, but Brickwell persuades him to address the demons that are holding him back. His advice is spot-on: “Let that pain become your inspiration.”

Planning to confront his father, Bart returns to Greenville. But his anger is short-lived. The paternal monster has evolved into the father that Bart always hoped he would have. Inspired by this spiritual transformation, Bart pens the lyrics to “I Can Only Imagine.”

What follows are tear-jerking moments and the delivery of the song. During the credits, the real-life Bart Millard delivers his rendition of the chart-topping song that has brought hope into the lives of millions.

Definitely a movie for the Easter season. Don’t miss it!


Movie Review: The Shape of Water

Master storyteller and director Guillermo del Toro has created an adult fairy tale set against the backdrop of the Cold War era. In a high-security government laboratory, the lives of two janitors, brilliantly played by Sally Hawkins (Elisa) and Octavia Spencer (Zelda), intersect with the lives of a nasty military officer (Michael Shannon) and a sympathetic researcher (Michael Stuhlbarg).

Point of intersection: a secret classified experiment that has captured the interest of the Americans and the Russians.

An amphibious creature—often referred to as the “asset”—is shackled and tested while its future is being debated. The scientists consider the asset to be a biological miracle that could be used to help future astronauts. The military is considering the asset as a potential weapon against the Russians while the Russians are plotting their own takeover of the asset.

Elisa tries to keep her head down as she cleans around the asset’s tank, but she can’t resist taking a peek. There is an instant connection as soon as her eyes connect with the blue orbs of the amphibian (Doug Jones). An inter-species romance develops as Elisa secretly shares boiled eggs and music during her lunch breaks. The two outsiders—a mute woman and an amphibian—form a silent bond.

Emboldened by her love, Elisa decides to liberate the creature. What follows is an unlikely but fascinating tale of escape and the repercussions for all involved.

So much to like here—Sally Hawkins’ ability to express herself without uttering a word, strong performances by all supporting actors, breathtaking underwater visions, expert narration by Richard Jenkins (who also stars as Elisa’s eccentric neighbor), unexpected plot twists, and Guillermo del Toro’s extraordinary vision of a magical world brought to life.

The most-nominated film at this year’s Oscars, The Shape of Water won in four categories: Production Design, Original Score, Director, and Best Picture.